Tuesday, September 12, 2006

It's a small moon after all

We must've been pretty bored to even begin talking about it, but Saturday night Marshall, Cody, and I agreed to disagree about whether or not the moon is actually larger when it is setting on the horizon. Cody and Marshall cited some sort of magnification effect produced by the atmosphere, while I maintained that the moon only appeared larger based on its relative closeness to objects on the ground.

The magnification effect is a misconception. As I conceded, the atmosphere does change the color of the moon, but it in no way enlargens it. In fact, the refraction that does occur due to atmospheric interference tends to make both the sun and moon appear smaller, and even squished, at the horizon. Also, we have to remember that the the moon is more than 4000 miles further away from us when we see it at the horizon than when we see it at zenith.

bad moon risingMy armchair theory, that the perceived size of an object is affected by the context of its immediate visual enverionment, is actually Alhazen's. When we see the moon rising againt familiar objects such as trees, buildings, etc., we perceive it as being substantially larger than when we see it in the bare expanse of the night (or daytime) sky.

I think it's a pretty plausible explanation, but it is only one among many. This guy has has put together a pretty impressive compendium of several of the competing hypotheses. Some of them are fucking intense. Because the illusion has to be an artifact of the evolution of our Pleistocene ancestors' cognition, I would probably bet that the final answer, if one is ever discovered, is a composite of different theories.

And I would say that's a pretty big IF. The mind is so damn complicated, I'm still not convinced that in this era of technology we've even made very many truly monumental discoveries about it. (Giz will probably kill me for saying that.)

A few years back I went on a Pinker reading binge, and I remember thinking that - wow, this is fascinating, and his stuff has to be on the right track, but shit. We've still gotta be centuries away from even approaching a real understanding of the mind's inner workings.

Then again, I studied math and alcoholism, so what the fuck do I know.

Labels: ,

7 Comments:

At 11:58 AM, September 12, 2006, Blogger Tito said...

So thats what you ladies were doing while I was embarassing the actives in beer pong...

 
At 11:57 PM, September 12, 2006, Anonymous Marshall said...

To retort, at best, I think this about sums it up:

http://www.howstuffworks.com/question491.htm

I guess the best way for us to put it is, while the moon is of course not really closer to the earth, and thus no physical reason may be present to make us believe it is bigger, our minds do the work anyhow. And so, perception = reality and to the onlooker, the moon 'looks' bigger.

BTW...I tried the trick listed to trick the mind, and it didn't work, still looked bigger in the beginning of the night.

And Vince, the thumb thing didn't work for me. I even kept the distance I was holding it away from my eyes the same (arms length). Perception is such a cool topic for those studying psych or just interested in the mind.

Until next we meet...

 
At 12:06 AM, September 13, 2006, Blogger Vince said...

Yeah man, like I say, a few hundred thousand years of evolution is still way too much for a couple centuries study to be able to understand...

 
At 7:50 AM, September 13, 2006, Blogger CD said...

What's a mosconception?

 
At 10:05 AM, September 13, 2006, Blogger Sir Cody said...

My retort: Haven't you seen Joe vs. The Volcano? BAM where you at now bitches? But seriously, this isn't even the stupidest philosophical/scientific thing Marshall and I have discussed while drinking. It's just what we do. Well, that and get stupid drunk. By the way, did y'all see Mars on Tuesday? It was the size of the fricking moon!!! :p

 
At 1:19 PM, September 13, 2006, Anonymous Marshall said...

LOL...again, cody has a point. We do tend to end up on some rather unusual topics (reference The Meaning Of Life conversation, Apt 207, circa 1999). Eh, well, what can you do. Drink more, get more poon and hope for the best...

 
At 5:40 PM, September 13, 2006, Blogger Vince said...

I love poon.

 

Post a Comment

<< Home